One of my favorite things to tell people is, “You can’t know until you know.” It applies to everything. Do you like brussel sprouts? What time is he/she coming back? Do I need gas? Will kids like this thing? Rule of life, you can’t know until you know. Once you know, you can do so much with that knowledge. The catch 22 here is that sometimes you can only know through failing.
True life confession: I’ve failed before. Shocking, I know. But sometimes, obvious failures don’t always have to feel like a fail. Here’s what I mean:
It was January 2015, and in honor of national soup month (a real thing) I decided to set up a little mission project. All the students were encouraged and challenged to bring canned or boxed soup that would be donated to our local food bank. We had moms bring warm soup for us all to have dinner together- I’ve never seen so many crockpots. The pièce de résistance was the food bank director was going to come talk about the food bank and the importance of donations. That was the plan, at least.
About 45 minutes before students were to arrive, I got word that the director had to cancel and they didn’t have anyone else they could send in her place. Now, I’m good on toes. In fact, I thrive in chaos. But I’m also a stickler for themes. Let me tell you, soup theme is a hard one to have to be quick on your toes for! In a last minute decision, and after recalling a meeting I’d had with another youth pastor in my town, I decided that to support her youth group we would jump in on a project they were working on. Her students were making 1000 paper origami cranes for a girl with a brain tumor, a girl many of my students also went to school with. Needless to say, it seemed like a great and easy thing to set up for.
I cut the paper, printed tons of copies of the directions and waited for the night to start. We collected the soup, ate soup, and then moved into what I now recognize as the hardest hour of my life. To start, I told the kids to write a prayer or a verse on the paper. I told them once they were finished they could start working on the crane. Little did I know, not everyone learns the basic crane fold in elementary school (shout out to my 5th grade teacher for that one). It became clear that I was going to need to teach origami to all the students. So, with a room full of 70 middle schoolers and ten adults, I attempt the impossible. How we managed to get any done, let alone 100 is still beyond me. The highlights include me shouting, “If I can do this above my head and backwards, you can do it like a normal person on the table with the directions!” And the best paper crane of the night was the unfolded paper with a drawing labeled “crane”.
This was hands down the hardest thing I’ve done in ministry. While my leaders and I unanimously agree this night was a programmatic fail, it still doesn’t feel like a fail. The amount of laughter had that night, and is still had because of it, is a success to me. Origami became the baseline of difficulty for students. When they were being too crazy or acting up, I would jokingly say, “Don’t make me get out the origami!” Being able to connect with students in a unique way, or by inside joke, that’s a success.
As a human person, I don’t strive for failure. In fact, I only recently came to understand that failure is a stepping stone for growth and failure doesn’t have to be negative. Woody Allen once said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” There’s something whimsical about adopting a “you can’t know until you know” lifestyle. In a lot of ways, it frees you from having a stagnant life and encourages curiosity. It allows you to be creative and not fear failure.
Jumping into a life of “you can’t know until you know” might seem a little far fetched. All it takes is the willingness to try something. If you fail, that’s okay! Embrace it and let it become a positive so you can see the success by following these four steps:
1. Find the humor in it. Sometimes it hard to find the humor in the thick of it, but once you find at least one funny moment, you’re already starting to think about this fail positively. I was frustrated at soup and origami night; when it ended, I laughed so hard at how ridiculous the entire night became. Laughter is the best medicine after all.
2. Learn something from it. I learned that origami with 70 middle schoolers isn’t a great idea. I learned the importance of having a backup plan when you schedule guest speakers. Anytime you try something new, you can learn something. Don’t let failure cloud your capacity to learn.
3. Brush it off. Once you’ve laughed and you’ve learned, brush off your failure. Dwelling in something that isn’t bringing you joy isn’t worth it. You’re not defined by this. Yeah, origami was a strong fail, but you live, you learn, and your life continues to move on.
4. Be proud of yourself. You tried something new, yay! It takes some chutzpah to go out on a limb or think outside of the box. They say it’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. I’m proud I stuck it out with the origami and I’m especially proud we finished 100 cranes.
Ministry isn’t always easy. It’s hard to stay fresh and relevant, but not trying new things for the sake of fear of failure, isn’t fair to your students. A lifestyle of “you can’t know until you know” can help you embrace innovation. You might fail, but there are hidden successes in every failure.
Would I do origami again? Absolutely not, but you can’t know until you know. And now, I know!
Ashely is equal parts sass and volume. She can whip up an event in no time and thrives in chaos. She has a heart for youth ministry and organic relationships/mentorships. Needless to say, youth ministry is a great fit for her. She also enjoys speaking, teaching, and training leaders. You can connect with Ashely on Instagram @ashley_slater